great, overwhelming sadness… Dr. Adam Fox had
never experienced such debilitating depression in all his years as a
human being. But now, as he watched his glorious red coat falling
from him in clumps, his dark eyes watered, simply another indication
that the happiest years of his life were coming to a close.
He was changing back.
His beloved mate of two years had sensed the impending occurrence long before his body betrayed him. Sniffing suspiciously, she bared her teeth at him and backed away, and Adam knew that despite his deepest desires, he was reverting to human form. Gingerly, he paced toward the exquisite fox, his bushy tail held low. He tried to nuzzle her as he always had, but she nervously retreated several more steps into the forest's underbrush.
He wished he could reassure her, to tell her that he would not harm her, but their communication was not with words. It consisted of body language, scent, and vocalizations. And despite his soothing coos to her, he knew she detected danger.
He caught his breath as his morphing body lurched, and he was vaguely aware that he had started to grow larger. Slowly, his ears were shifting and his back legs lengthening. His silky fur was shedding even more rapidly than before.
Adam emitted a nearly human cry, begging his love to remain with him, but this sound only frightened her more, and she fled through the scrub to their kits.
Ah, my kits, my beautiful babies…
Instead of pursuing her and alarming her further, Adam remained where he stood, recalling the immense pride that had welled within him when he had finally become a father. For fifty-two lonely human years, he had never married, never had children, and he had never experienced a love anywhere near that which he felt for this magnificent vixen. And though those four baby foxes would never read books or play ball with him, their shining faces gazed into his with adoration, and he knew there was no greater honor in the world than to be their father. None of the scientific awards and grants he had won ever had left him feeling so deeply important.
So many lazy days he had spent with his partner and cubs, and so many nights he had darted through the woods and fields, playing and roughhousing with his children… These wonderful, pure memories were almost elemental in tone, but they affected him so deeply that tears gathered in his changing eyes…
Yet the serum had run its course. The formula that he had spent much of his adult human life working on had been successful beyond his wildest dreams, but now his three wonderful years as a fox were sadly coming to a close.
Many years ago, when he had begun his transformation studies, he had focused on foxes in honor of his last name. After almost two decades of research, his “Fox Serum” had finally delivered on its promise by changing several different animals into foxes, and Adam was ready to perform a human trial. Ethically, however, he knew he could never test on another human being. If anything went wrong, he could not bear to carry the guilt of having harmed someone else. And even if his formula worked as expected, deep down, he did not want to share his findings with anyone quite yet. This was his work, his dream, and he wanted to claim the world's first human-to-animal transformation for himself.
Only his boss, Craig, and his lab aide, Amy, knew of his plans to use the serum. They cautioned him against experimenting on himself, but he paid them no heed. He pointed out that he was the perfect subject – he had no family and few friends, so his absence would not cause alarm. Amy and Craig could explain it as a research-based extended vacation, perhaps.
“What if you forget who you are? Will your mind be a fox’s mind?” Amy inquired as he prepared for the life-altering event. She tugged at her mousy brown hair and twisted it around her index finger. Adam knew she only did this when she was supremely anxious, and he felt a pang of guilt. Amy did care for him, and he did not want to cause her any angst, but at the same time, he knew she was very curious about the serum's effects. His sampling the formula was the only way to identify them.
“Adam, you're not answering me!” His lack of answer made her jittery. “Will you just be like any real fox walking around, not knowing you're really a person, or will you be Adam in a fox's body?”
“I’ll let you know,” he replied curtly.
Amy inhaled deeply, her eyes full of worry.
The excitement of that first injection was nearly palpable. If it worked as intended, Adam would finally be able to run with the foxes that inhabited the nearby woods. And he would run as one of them.
In complete awe, Amy recorded his metamorphosis using both her cell phone as well as a video camera propped up on a corner table. She watched as Adam's clothes appeared to grow too large for him. His pants fell to the floor in one swoop, while his shirt simply seemed to engulf his shrinking form.
Adam narrated what he was experiencing until he was unable to articulate human sounds any longer. Even then, he still nodded his head to answer Amy's questions, of which she had plenty.
“You’re still you, Adam?” she asked incredulously, staring at the red fox that now stood in a pile of the scientist’s clothes.
Astonished at how well his formula had worked, Adam finally forced himself to nod. Everything seemed different around him – the trees were larger, the ground was closer, and the air was full of interesting scents he could easily identify. While testing out his fluffy tail, he elatedly paced around in circles on his new paws. The paw pads were soft and cushion-like, lined by velvety fur, leaving no trace of his original flaky, callused soles.
After years of grueling experimentation, his research had finally resulted in a near-miracle! His change had been so painless it was almost pleasant, and he felt better than he had in decades. His new body seemed vital, alive, and full of hope.
Gulping, Amy opened the back door and led him out into the deep forest beyond their lab building. “Adam, have a lovely, wonderful time. Please be careful. Come by and visit when you can.”
Blinking up at his aide and almost pitying the fact that she was stuck in her routine, ordinary life, he tilted his head questioningly.
“Yes, I’m jealous,” she murmured, managing to identify the pitying expression on his furry features.
He shook his head, as if to say “don’t be”, but Amy averted her gaze. “You’re beautiful, Adam,” she commented, peering into the woods. Her words became choked. “Go,” she pushed out, motioning at the trees and then turning away.
Adam made a parting wave of his paw, and then bounded off into the woods without looking back. Adventure awaited him.
Adam kept his word in the beginning of his days as an animal. When he felt lonely, he would visit Amy and Craig, and they would test him and question him about his experiences. His mind indeed remained intact, but over time, he gained fox instincts and feelings. He had become an adept hunter, and taking down prey and eating raw meat bothered him less and less as he adapted to his new life. He was a fox; he was nature, and this is what nature did to survive.
Now as he stood in a forest clearing, three years later, he could once again see his pale human skin. As a human, his visage always possessed a sickly cast due to his rarely seeing daylight. Even Amy said he spent too much time in the lab and not enough time having fun. But at his age, who had fun anymore? Sleeping in or watching a good movie or nature show was about as exciting as his life got. And often both of these occurred in his lab, anyway. There was a cot, a television set, and refrigerator in the back room. The bathroom had a shower. Whoever needed to venture outside?
Yet as a fox, he had lived and breathed the outdoors. Never confined by walls or floor, the forest was his house and his backyard. He cherished the lazy afternoons lying in the sun, feeling its warmth on his coat and the breeze tickling his fur…
The digits of his paws were growing bizarrely long, forming back into fingers. He was happy to note that again the changes were painless; he was simply feeling some general pressure… This part of the serum had been tough to formulate. He wanted to make sure the transformation was not uncomfortable, and finding the correct painkillers that would also work on the change-back had been complicated. As it was, through his whole time as a fox, he felt very little pain due to these medications. He resolved to inform Craig of this discovery. It could possibly serve to help people with chronic pain issues.
Yet he did not have any great urge to go back to Amy and Craig. His visits had gotten less and less frequent to the point that it had been months since he had made human contact. He did not wish to see humans, for they only destroyed his kind. He worried for his mate and their children.
…His beautiful mate…
A year or so into his new life, he had been nosing around in the valley when he noticed an unmistakable scent.
The female was drinking deeply from the brook, and he had to go to her.
She did not run, which surprised him, for females always seemed wary of him. Perhaps they detected that he was different, or they sensed his hesitation. As appealing as the females were to his fox side, his human mind felt guilty, almost as if he were taking advantage of these gentle animals.
Interestingly, he had not considered the idea of sexuality in a transformed being. But through his whole first year, he had allowed himself to submit to every fox instinct except the urge to mate. Perhaps it was good that the females feared him, because however much he tried to deny it, the fox part of him ached for them. But his human side, small as it was, still was ashamed of these thoughts, and so he had opted to remain solitary for a full year.
Yet this particular vixen was different than the others he had encountered. She approached him directly and without fear, smelling him, nuzzling him, and accepting him. And Adam's fox part finally won out. This beautiful girl was his.
But now he was far on his way to becoming a human male once more. His mate was gone, and he would never see her or his children again. Next, his duty was to humanity: he had to rejoin his friends and colleagues to disclose his findings. Transforming a human to an animal – he would be famous! What an amazing scientific advance! The possibilities were endless with this new technology!
Yet as he became larger and took on more characteristics of a lumbering human, he grew increasingly disenchanted with returning to his kind. Who cared if he were famous? He would still be alone. His fox children could not see him at scientific lectures. His mate would not be there for him if he won a Nobel Prize.
With each second, more and more of his happy existence was stripped from him. By now, his tail was gone. All that remained of it was a pile of fur on the ground and a slight itchiness at the base of his spine.
His ears were human ears, and he hated that he could no longer move them.
His keen sense of smell, his vision, and his deep link to nature were all gone. Now, he felt unconnected and alone. Mindlessly, he let his body propel him out of the woods that he knew so well. He was completely unaware of the several tears that traced his cheeks.
He stood at the lab back entrance, where he had been liberated from so long ago, but he could not bring himself to knock. His naked body was pasty and unwieldy, and he wriggled his fingers with distaste. The sensation of skin rubbing against skin was disturbing.
“I don’t belong here anymore,” he whispered to himself. And he realized he did not like forming phrases with his lips. It seemed too laborious. “This is not where I belong,” he repeated, listening closely to the words. Ever since he had paired up with his female, the other foxes accepted and included him as one of their own, and he finally felt as if he had found his place in the world. He had always been somewhat of a loner, and even with the accolades he had received for his scientific research, he still felt as if he were an outsider.
But his work had allowed him a glimpse into a better existence. Being with his brother and sister foxes was the first time he felt as if he was part of something. He was wanted.
Despite that his human form was now completely restored, he remained staring at the lab door, unaware of how long he stood there. Time held no meaning to him when he was a fox – the nights and days always blurred together in a mix of seasons and happiness. The falling snow and the crisp winter air meant burrowing together with the warmth of his family at his side, while the heat of the summer meant long naps on the cool rocks by the brook.
The sun did feel warm on his skin, but now it was burning him, for there was no fur to soften the rays…
“Dr. Fox! You’re back! And…you’re naked!”
An open-mouthed Amy paused uncertainly in the doorway.
Adam looked down at himself, chuckling. Clothes meant nothing to him now; what fox needed clothes with such a glorious coat as he had possessed? And Amy knew what a human male’s body looked like. It really should not be so shocking to her.
The lab assistant yanked a tarp off a large centrifuge, hurriedly draping the cloth over him. “Cover up! What’s this, in three years you’ve forgotten that humans wear clothes? Well, after three years, what else would I expect from a man that's been a fox? Oh, this whole situation is just plain...crazy!”
As Amy pulled him inside, he studied the laboratory that once was as familiar as the white patch on his mate’s throat. What had for years served as a second home now was too large, too enclosed, and completely alien to him. Even the air seemed stale, stifling, and wrong.
“So, so…tell me everything!” Amy chirped, wringing her hands in anticipation. “How awesome was it? Want me to get Dr. Welton?”
The last trial Adam wanted to undergo was to see more humans. “No, leave Craig alone. Please.”
“He should be coming by pretty soon anyway.” Amy appeared confused at Adam’s sad tone, and she tugged a chair over and sat down beside him. Adam remained standing, shuffling his uncomfortably large foot restlessly.
“Can you tell me what it was like, now that you can talk once more?” The lab aide encouraged him again in a gentler manner.
Adam sighed, and began to pace around the lab. The tarp flapped up as he moved, uncovering more of him than was socially acceptable for Amy to see, but he did not care. Seconds before, she had just viewed all he had to offer as a man, which was not anything particularly impressive. “Running with the foxes...being one of them was the best part of my life,” he responded. He was not used to the back and forth of conversation, and he found it irritating to formulate into language what once he had shown by touch, by small mewls and loud growls only…
“Was the serum painless? What did the changes feel like?” Amy was getting visibly annoyed by his lack of detail.
Picking up a large beaker and placing it back down, he replied, “It doesn’t hurt, but there’s a pulling feeling… I mean, you feel your body shifting and changing, but it’s not horrible like you’d expect. We did a good job with that stuff.” He glanced longingly at the refrigerator where his serum samples were kept.
“And now you can present your findings to the world! We’ll show the video of your transformation, and the pictures we took of you over the years…”
Casting his eyes to the floor, Adam cleared his throat. “That’s so unimportant,” he uttered.
“What? Unimportant? Why?”
“Oh, Amy, life as a fox was so much better than being human. There’s no cares except the most basic ones…eat, sleep, take care of your children…”
“You had babies?” she gasped in a mix of delight and shock.
A sad sigh was his answer. “I miss them,” he added softly.
The lab aide made an excited hop. “Amazing! Absolutely amazing! I can’t believe that was possible! You were able to reproduce in a transformed state, and your young were the species you’d transformed into… Can you even imagine how that works? The DNA must have to...just amazing...”
“Yes. Yes, amazing.” Adam made a slight smile. That was Amy, not thinking about the potentially disturbing fact that he had mated with an animal.
But such a lovely animal…
New tears formed in his eyes, and he turned away in hopes that Amy had not seen. He had little interest in the science involved in his metamorphosis. There was one thing he wished now, and it was to be with his fox family. That was all.
Amy examined him closely, and her voice fell to a whisper. “I really was so jealous of you, Adam. To be free like that…”
He did not look at her.
“I went out a few times to find you, but I never could.”
“We hide well. We know to stay far from the humans. They hurt us.”
He was well aware that he spoke from the viewpoint of a fox, not a man, and he could see that Amy had picked up on this as well. Perhaps he could share some of his joy with her, if he described it well enough. “Oh, Amy,” he began, grabbing her hand and not feeling awkward about it in the least. “You don’t know the… elation–”
He was interrupted by a screech and a loud bang outside. “What the hell was that?” he yelped, jarred by his own outburst.
Keeping her eyes on him a second longer, Amy forced herself away and ran to the front window. “Oh, that’s just Dr. Welton pulling in. Let me go see what his problem is. It’s always something with that guy. Always in a rush, always...” She continued complaining about her boss as she sprinted to the front door of the lab.
Adam joined her as she ventured outside to see what the commotion was about. They found Craig beside his car, bending over something on the ground and cursing. When he straightened up, Adam cried out in agony.
There at Craig's feet lay Adam's mate, bloodied and near death.
The scientist stumbled over to her and scooped up her frail body, screaming, “Craig, you bastard! Can’t you drive slower? You hit her! Oh, my love, my only love.” His tears flowed freely now, dropping to the female's red coat and mingling with her blood. The fox stared up into his face, first growling, then sniffing at him. The growl quickly diminished into a happy sound, and she nuzzled at Adam’s arm.
“Yes, darling, it’s me. You can still tell my scent. Please, stay with me. Please. I’m so sorry I left you. I’ll never leave you again.” He buried his face in her coat.
Craig’s eyes bulged out as the full impact of what he had done finally occurred to him. “Adam, Adam…I’m sorry…” he began to stutter. “I…I had no idea you’re back, and…well, she ran out into the road so fast, like she was looking for something… I’m always so careful, I never hit anything in my life…”
“You were looking for me, weren’t you?” Adam stroked the smooth fur, and the vixen made a contented purr before growing still.
“Oh, God, no! Please, don’t leave me…oh, why now…” But she was gone, and suddenly Adam’s feeling of isolation became unbearable. He covered his eyes with his hands and swore, wanting desperately to strike Craig, to rip out his throat as if he were nothing but prey…
A mewling sound came from nearby in the bushes, bringing him back to his senses. “My babies!” he gasped. He discovered the fox kits and tried to gather them together in his arms, but they shied away. “No, no, my children. Don’t be afraid. It’s just me. Please, don’t run off…” But the young cubs ran into the underbrush, crying for their mother.
Adam gaped at Amy and Craig, who simply stared back wordlessly. “Who will take care of them? They have no mother. They’re orphaned! I don’t know if they’re old enough to be on their own. How old do foxes need to be before they strike out on their own?”
Amy shook her head, shrugging her shoulders helplessly, while Craig stammered, “I’m not…really sure…”
“They need help! Who will help them?” Adam demanded, his eyes wild.
Craig gulped, and Amy cast her eyes towards the female that lay nearby. Adam followed her glance, his eyes lingering on the vixen's body for several long minutes.
“No…no…That’s enough!” he suddenly cried, and darted off.
Craig twisted around to watch his friend. “Where’s he going?” he asked, alarmed. His eyes widened. “He’s not…”
“Oh, God,” Amy exclaimed, grasping Craig's arm. “The serum!”
They darted after the scientist. When they reached the lab, Adam met them at the door. There was an empty syringe in his hand, and a comforted look on his face.
“Oh, Adam! You didn’t!” shouted Craig in horrified dismay.
“It’s three years old!” Amy added. “You don’t know if it’ll work, or—”
But Adam was not worried about whatever effect it would have on him. He just did not want to be one of the huge killer-animals known as human beings. They had murdered the only love he had ever had! In his mind, he begged and pleaded to be part of nature again, to run wild, unimpeded by the silly, meaningless worries that every person possessed.
He let out a breath of relief as he felt the familiar changes begin to wash over his body, slowly bringing him back to his form of choice. “Three years old and it's still good? Perfect! I hope I never change back,” he said, running his hand over his growing fur. “But if I do, I only ask that you always have the serum available to me, Craig. Even if you need to make more. I need to take over where my mate left off.”
“Adam, we could put the babies in some kind of foster-animal place,” Craig offered.
“'The' babies?” Adam thundered. “They're not just any babies! They're my babies. God, I’m so done here.”
Craig shook his head distractedly. “You can't be done here! You have to share this breakthrough with the world. You’re a brilliant scientist. We can’t lose you! Who knows what else you might contribute to society with those brains of yours?”
The scientist grunted as a tail pushed from the small of his back. “Here, contribute this, if you want. Study those painkillers in the serum. They kept me nearly pain-free when I was a fox. Even when I cut or injured myself, I hardly felt anything. That would be great for people with chronic pain.” He shivered at the sensation of his ears changing shape and migrating up on his head.
“Okay, but no one would do better work on that than you,” Craig pointed out. “And who will present your findings, and accept all of the honors you receive for your research? Adam, this is big, this is,” he swallowed, studying the man who was becoming an animal, “World-changing…”
“You two will take care of everything. Tell my story, tell of my mate…” He approached the fox’s body. As he bent down to her, he was forced onto all fours as his body grew more and more vulpine. He stroked her head with something resembling a mixture of a hand and a paw. As he felt his mouth elongating into a snout, he pushed out, “Please bury her for me.” And with that, his ability to form words was lost.
Silently, Amy walked back to the lab, and Craig was left watching the vestiges of his long-time friend disappearing into animal form.
Adam and Craig locked eyes, and Craig tried to smile. “Adam, I don’t understand you, but I guess you’ve made your choice. We’ll share your findings with the world, and if you visit now and then, we’ll tell you how it’s going. Please come by. Don’t forget who you are.”
Adam moved his head back and forth, as if to say “You’ll never understand.” He wanted to wipe away who and what he had been born as. Desperately.
Then Amy rushed back out of the lab, a her face glowing almost unnaturally. “You’re so handsome like that, Adam. But,” she pulled up her sleeve and ran her hand over her arm, which was sprouting red fur, “you didn’t say that it tingles,” she giggled.
An empty syringe dropped from her other hand, and she rubbed the area where she had driven it into her skin.
The fox rushed up to her, shaking its head in objection.
Craig grabbed at her in disbelief. “Oh, Amy! Why? I can’t lose you too! Who’s going to run the lab? You’ve got a whole life ahead of you!” he yelled in a near-rage.
Ignoring her boss’s outcry, Amy crouched down and got on her side. “The first time Adam transformed, he said it was easier to lie down when you changed. I don’t know why he didn’t do that this time.” She lay on her side and observed in fascination as her arms and legs grew to equal size. “I have four legs now,” she grinned. “I’m an official quadruped!”
“Amy, you’re so young!” Craig protested.
“Yes, so I have some time to experiment. And if I never do this, I’ll spend the rest of my life wishing I had, wondering what it would feel like…” She looked over at Adam, whose furry features registered concern. “And Dr. Adam Fox raising kids on his own? I don’t think so.”
Adam growled playfully, and both fox and human remained, eyes fixed on the lab aide as her transformation ran its course.
Craig took a deep breath as he beheld the splendid young animal his assistant had become. He viewed her gingerly walking on all fours, testing out her ears and tail, and then pouncing at Adam in delighted exhilaration.
“You’re lovely, Amy,” Craig whispered. But she heard, and she winked at the man. Adam jumped at her and bounded off, and she followed joyfully. The woods swallowed the couple up, and Craig stared after them for a long while.
Now he was the jealous one.